Merlot

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About Merlot
 
Renowned for its smoothness, the dark fruits that are so pronounced in merlot - such as raspberry, plum and black cherry - are served up minus the bite. So often underrated, merlot is finally gaining recognition for the unique experience it offers the palate.
 
If one was to compile a list of underrated wine varietals, merlot has every right to sit at the very top. So often the bridesmaid, merlot garners deserved attention for its contribution to a range of blends, but receives far less praise as a 100% varietal.
 
Why? Some have argued that the smoothness of the grape has allowed inferior vintages – the standard of which simply wouldn’t be bottled for other grapes – to be palatable, leading to inferior merlots flooding the market. In truth, a quality merlot can match a quality shiraz or cabernet sauvignon any day of the week.
 
A memoir of Merlot
 
Born of Cabernet Franc and the little-known variety Magdeleine Noire des Charentes, the first recorded use of the term ‘Merlot’ was in 1784. The name is thought to be the diminutive of merle – French for blackbird. The birds, it was said, chose to feast on merlot over any other grape variety.
 
France devotes more acreage to merlot than all other countries combined, but Italy, the US, Australia, Chile and Argentina all produce healthy amounts of the grape.
 
The home of merlot is Bordeaux, the famed wine growing region in the southwest of France, where it is used in some of the world’s most recognised – and expensive – blends. Such is the region’s influence over merlot that “Bordeaux style” is the name given to merlots produced in traditional climates and in a traditional way, which are markedly different to the “international style” merlots largely produced by new world vintners.

Hot or cold
 
Perhaps more than almost any other grape, the qualities and characteristics of merlot are influenced by the environment in which it is planted. This has played a large part in the characterisation of the two distinct styles mentioned above – ‘Bordeaux’ and ‘international’.
 
Bordeaux-style merlots feature grapes cultivated in cooler climates like Bordeaux, but also in Italy, New Zealand and Chile. These grapes are generally harvested earlier, producing a medium-bodied wine that is less alcoholic but that features more acidity.
 
International-style merlots on the other hand are left on the vine to gain ripeness which results in deep purple, full-bodied wine with higher alcohol content. This style is more common in new-world markets and lends itself to the warmer climates of Australia, the US and Argentina.
 
 

Renowned for its smoothness, the dark fruits that are so pronounced in merlot - such as raspberry, plum and black cherry - are served up minus the bite. So often underrated, merlot is finally gaining recognition for the unique experience it offers the palate.

What does merlot taste like?

In the world of wine, merlot wears the tailored suit, drives the fancy car, and orders its martini shaken, not stirred. It is smooth. Light tannins and a particularly soft finish make this perhaps the easiest red of all to drink, and it’s these characteristics that have placed merlot as a blend favourite, tasked with evening out the more bitey and bold flavours of cabernet sauvignon, grenache and mourvèdre. But merlot also makes for a terrific standalone varietal. Dark fruit flavours like raspberry, black cherry and plum are pronounced, hints of coffee, mocha and vanilla add to the silkiness, and a dull finish of tobacco and graphite takes the place of the acidic bite found in the likes of shiraz and cab sauv. Don’t be surprised if you empty your glass in half the time you normally would.

Is merlot sweet or dry?

Like all of Australia’s traditional reds, merlot is an unfortified wine with zero residual sugar added, and is therefore classed as dry. But the terms ‘dry’ and ‘sweet’ shouldn’t be confused with ‘fruity’ and ‘earthy’ – it might be a dry wine, but merlot is overflowing with fruit flavours, so there will still be enough sweetness for those who like a couple of sugars in their coffee.

What is the difference between merlot and cabernet sauvignon?

Apart from the obligatory shiraz, which other red should you serve at your dinner party?

The choice often comes down to two Australian favourites – cabernet sauvignon and merlot. The difference between the two is pretty obvious at first sip. Cabernet sauvignon is more robust, bold and rich, while merlot is more delicate, smooth and fruity. While it’s a broad oversimplification, seasoned oenophiles often enjoy the full-bodied complexity of cabernet sauvignon, while less serious red drinkers are partial to the accessibility and silkiness of a quality merlot (not that wine connoisseurs can’t enjoy merlot just as much as everyone else!)

Is merlot full-bodied?

One of the most common (and often confusing) ways to analyse wine is to talk about its body. We’re decent and respectable wine drinkers, so this doesn’t mean discussing whether the wine has curves in all the right places, but rather how it feels in the mouth. The scale groups wines into three categories – light-, medium- and full-bodied – which can be thought of as the difference between the mouth feel of skim milk, whole milk and cream. Like almost all of Australia’s most popular reds, merlot is classed as a full-bodied wine. Its higher alcohol content makes the wine more viscous, giving it that ‘full’ mouth feel.

What food does merlot pair best with?

Like many a full-bodied red, merlot pairs best with hearty, meaty meals. Roast lamb, beef wellington, grilled chops, a rare fillet steak; if it’s red and juicy, it’ll go with this most red and juicy of wines. Vegetarians are wise to choose dishes with similar heartiness or strong umami flavours – mushroom heavy dishes and roasted seasonal vegetables, for example.